UCLA researchers have developed an innovative approach to diagnosing cancer. This research has excellent commercial applications and is already in the process of being translated into a novel technology by a Los Angeles start up. The new technique allows researchers to very accurately diagnose cancers by observing the physical characteristics of cells in bodily fluids.
This approach is particularly noteworthy because it would allow scientists to diagnose the presence of cancerous cells without having to remove them from the body fluid in which they are present. The isolation of cells for testing is one of the most costly and time consuming aspects of cancer diagnostics. These isolating processes can involve using complex dying or molecular marking processes that are often not accurate.
The technique developed by the UCLA researchers bypasses all these complex aspects of sample preparation and allows scientists to diagnose cancerous cells in the body fluid in which they are found. The technique uses a form of cytometry to take images of cells as they flow through tiny fluid channels. These images are then analyzed to determine if the cell is cancerous or healthy.
In particular, the characteristics that the cytometer is testing has to do with how the cell responds to being “squeezed” by slight pressure in the fluid that surrounds it. This type of cytometry is known as “deformability cytometry.” By taking images of how cells respond to pressure, scientists can glean clues to their internal structure and determine whether they are cancerous or not. Cells that have become cancerous have a very different internal structure from healthy cells and thus deform in a much different way in the cytometry process.